Alright, I just finished up the demo for Black the Fall, which was graciously and fearlessly provided by Sand Sailor Studio. In this age of review embargoes and such, it is refreshing to find developers who are unafraid of allowing pre-release tastes of their games.

Worker bee. Then everything changed.
Worker bee. Then everything changed.

According to Sand Sailor Studio’s press kit for Black the Fall:

Black The Fall is a puzzle game set-up in a communist dystopian era. Playing as Black, an obedient factory worker, the player gets one chance to outsmart the oppressive system. But beware, the road to freedom is paved with puzzles, pitfalls and manipulation.
A door malfunctions, an opportunity arises. Once out, how does one survive?

Black The Fall started in 2014, as Cristian Diaconescu and Nicoleta Iordanescu’s  art project: a black & white stealth-platformer, set-up in an alienated world. The game concept came as a way to illustrate and express rebellion against the mechanisms of a heavily corrupted system. A system that has its behavioral and psychological roots in the decades of communism, Romania has gone through.

In the months to follow they discovered there’s so much of the communist mentality to tell: distrust, dehumanizing work environment, uniformity: “We chose a puzzle game approach, as this would better illustrate what it means to cope with a restrictive regime. We lived in times where there was no freedom of speech, intellectuals were thrown in prisons and tortured, food was subject to rationing, there was no access to contraception. Access to western culture was minimal.

It sounds Orwellian, but unfortunately it happened in real life in most of communist countries. And the worst part is that it’s still happening in some parts of the world.” said Cristian Diaconescu, Creative Director at Sand Sailor Studio. “Also, as we explored this path we realized that the oppressive mechanics apply to the western world today, where a lot of people feel trapped in conforming with a system they don’t believe in. With Black the Fall, we are giving anyone a chance to outsmart the system and escape it.”

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My playthrough of the demo revealed an evocative light filtered world with color accents, filled with devious traps and thought provoking imagery. It took me about an hour to play my way through the demo, although I did test the system, so to speak, to see what I could and could not get away with in the game.

The gameplay itself was seamless, 3-D side scrolling done to perfection. Black the Fall handles like a champ. At no point did I find the controls to be intrusive or unresponsive. Everything functioned as it should. The actual mechanic of jumping, climbing, and interacting with objects was also seamless, and the inclusion of twin stick shooter-esque mind control via flashlights was pretty cool. There were some very challenging moments, and some interesting ways to complete puzzles, such as bouncing the light off of objects to direct the workers. There was also a section that was pitch black. You are required to use sound as your guide to avoid the traps within. That was a genius stroke and nice addition to the puzzle genre.

The graphics were also top notch. Very cool in it’s 1950’s Cold War Noire style.  I think I’m dubbing a new style here? Cold War Noire. More games should do this. If you recall the way color highlights and light filters were used in Schindler’s List, then you have an idea as to the way it was used in Black the Fall. Check out some of these screenshots in the gallery below so you dont have to rely on your imagination.

The audio in this demo was also stellar. This is a factory setting, and so most of the sounds relate to the way things would sound in a factory. There is a news reel that plays at one point,  that was clear and very cool. The attention to detail with the small accents and such was also phenomenal. Black the Fall is a living breathing world, albeit a completely oppressive, paranoiac one.

The story isnt profound from a demo standpoint, but based on the press kit’s description, I expect you will get a better sense for what the story is about when playing the full game. I was quite impressed by this demo, and if the full release is even close to as good, then you can count me amongst its players. I am looking forward to seeing what Black the Fall looks and plays like when it sees its full release.